Nov 19, 2009

Revised Query- Black Box Confessional

Click here to read the original query.

This is the revised copy of the query letter for Black Box Confessional. Thank you for all your wonderful comments. They have been very helpful.

Thomas Dean
Mr. Blah Blah
With Blah Blah Blah
1234 Street
New York, NY

Dear Mr. Blah Blah,

Secrets-the dark ones-the kind that bring shame to everyone involved are always well kept. The citizens of Cherryvale, Kansas have known this for decades, covering up the facts of the Bloody Benders and the Dalton Gang. However, what happens when the secret keeper no long wants to play the game; when they feel the need to let it all out?

Alex Mitchellson, an investigative reporter from Denver, has returned home for the first time in nearly ten years. The return is complicated by obligations, old romances, and the haunting death of two of his friends. The most disturbing complication comes in a tattered yellow envelope. The letter, although very cryptic, warns him of lies that caused him to leave his home.

As more letters arrive Alex is forced to face that there could be more to his friends’ death than an accidental drowning. With each piece of evidence pointing towards foul play and the possibility of a cover up an ever increasing danger grows.

Armed with the identity of the mysterious letter writer Alex takes the final step in unearthing what happened to his friends, and why they had been singled out. His questions are answered when he discovers the Chief of Police and his own father, the town minister, are at the root of the dark and sinister secret centered around the love the two boys shared.

Black Box Confessional is a 108,000 word suspense/thriller rooted in small town fears and the traditions they value.

As a graduate of Emporia State University I received a triple bachelor in Speech Communications, Theater and Journalism. While there I won awards for various published articles with the Colligate Press, as well as having several original short plays produced.

Thank you for considering my novel, Black Box Confessional.


Thomas Dean


distresseddamsel said...

So this is how a query should be like. I've been writing stories for several years now, but I never had the guts to turn in my works or ask a literary agent simply because I did not know how to go about it. It is very nice of you to post queries here, so that other writers like me who are clueless about the process would know at least where we should start. Thanks very much!

Rick Daley said...

Damsel- You should also check out the links on the right side of this blog. I've listed many useful posts from different agent blogs. Don't stop there, though...once you hit the agent blogs, keep reading. Most of them are entertaining as well as informative!

RCWriterGirl said...

Wow. I really like this. I think it's a tad on the long side, but it flows really well.

I like that you didn't try to get into all the drama that is his life and said his "return is complicated by obligations, old romances, and the haunting deaths of two of his friends."

The only thing I'd note is this sentence: "The letter, although very cryptic, warns him of lies that caused him to leave his home."

I think I know what you're trying to say with it. But, it's not the clearest. It seems like you want to say the thing that compelled him to leave home wasn't true. That the thing he thought was true, the thing that forced him to leave, was in fact a lie. And as I try to explain, it becomes obvious why it's a hard thing to clarify. While I'm at a loss to clearly express that sentiment, I think it needs to be more clearly expressed in the query letter than the way it is now. The sentence forces the reader to stop short and disect it's meaning. You don't really want that in a query. Maybe you can avoid getting into the lie issue and say something like: "the letter, although cryptic [you don't need very], warns him the town is hiding a secret about his friends' deaths."

I think the letter can be shortened, too. You can probably get rid of the introductory phrase: "Armed with the identity of the mysterious letter writer." The reason he's doing it isn't as important as what he's doing.

Otherwise, I thought the letter was very compelling. It sounds like a really intriguing book. Small towns full of secrets are always fun.

Good luck.

Chicago writer said...

First I would like to say that I really like this concept.

I like the first paragraph, it is to the point but of course I have a comment, lol.
If the town citizens (plural) are keeping these secrets should it mention only "the secret keeper" singular?
I would remove the however and change to 'What happens if the keepers no longer want to play the game?'
pgr 2
I would change returned to returns.
Returned is past tense but the "is" seems more in the now. In the next sentence maybe cut down to: Bombarded by obligations (of what?), old romances, ... death should be deaths.

I want to know why the tattered yellow envelope is more disturbing than the haunting deaths of his friends. I know it caused him to leave home but I'm not sure I am connecting to why he is even coming back. What are his emotions and/or motivations? Make me care about him.

Paragraphs 2 and 3 could be combined to leave me on the edge of my seat. The story is there I can feel it but I'm not edging forward with enough anticipation yet.

Paragraph 4 was a total letdown for me. He knows the identity, so no conflict. His father is the "bad guy" and I feel like you just added that major point in to finish the query. I want to get more of a feel for Alex and why I want to read the rest of his story. Try to tie in the first paragraphs Bloody Benders and Dalton Gang with the information you give in the 2nd, 3rd and last paragraph and I will want to read this book!

Also, the love of two boys is fine but are these guys Alex's friends or the police chief and Alex's father? Either way, none of them seem like boys unless the deaths were 10 years ago?

Lastly, rooted in should be changed to focusing on small town fears and traditions.

Good luck with your book, I look forward to seeing any revisions you make. Please as always take my comments for what they are- my 2 cents.

gj said...

The query reads -- to me -- as more literary fiction than thriller. While both genres are legit, the query itself promises one type of story (slow and moody and internal and deep), whereas the genre promises another (fast and external). That dissonance can be a problem.

Regardless of the genre, the first paragraph should be cut. It's very nicely written, but it doesn't say anything useful or use any shockingly beautiful language (such that it would establish literary voice), and you've only got a very few words to catch the agent's attention. Pretty much ALL stories involve secrets and someone keeping that secret, so the fact that your story involves a secret does nothing to differentiate it. Plus, unless you're writing a non-fiction treatise, it's usually more compelling to start with a PERSON than philosophical statement. Heck, even with non-fiction treatises, personal anecdotes are more compelling than philosophical statements. (And I was a philosophy major in college.)

Regardless of what you do with the first paragraph, take a look at the verbs in the remainder of the query, especially the verbs that are attributed to the protagonist, and if you look at them objectively (as someone who hasn't read the book itself), you'll get a picture of a guy sitting in his room, receiving letters and waiting for someone else to do things:

Alex has returned (active)
The return is complicated (grammatically passive, and it's not even Alex, but a concept -- "return" -- that's the subject of the sentence)
He receives a letter (grammatically active, but passive in reality)
He is warned (passive)
He is forced to face knowledge (passive)
He is pointed toward a cover-up (passive)
He is armed (passive)
He takes the final step (grammatically active, but so vague as to be meaningless, and thus passive in effect)
He is answered (passive)
He discovers a plot (active, but it's vague and it comes out of nowhere; how'd he discover anything, while he was just sitting and receiving stuff?)

It's common for the protagonist to be the victim of the inciting event, so that much is okay; something happens to him (receives a letter). But then it has to set him on the path to worse and worse problems, all of which occur at least in part because of decisions he's made and actions he's taken. He gets the letter, so he does X, which makes things worse insofar as Y happens, so then he has to do Z, which again worsens the situation. Cause and effect. Action and reaction. Emphasis on ACTIVE VERBS. And each event should be worse and worse, with his emotions and what's at stake for him rising with each word you use, so the reader is worrying more and more. ESPECIALLY if it's a thriller. He should be struggling against something more than the daily arrival of the mail carrier. (Just exaggerating a bit there for emphasis.)

What's he DOING? Make him active, link what happens in cause-effect fashion, and make the agent feel that the book will have thrills, and an escalation of tension as the protagonist struggles ACTIVELY against a worthy antagonist. said...

Just a thought. Most publishers see SUSPENSE and THRILLER as separate genres (rather from start to finish), as do most readers.

Is it possible to describe your story as one or the other rather than both?

Pen said...

I wonder whether the first sentence would be more punchy as "Dark secrets are always well kept."